How To Improve Your Dog's Bad Breath

Written by Shula Berg BVSc CertAVP(GSAS) GPAdvCert(SASTS) MRCVS
Clinically reviewed by Elizabeth McLennan-Green BVM&S CertAVP(SAM) MRCVS

Table of Contents

 - Causes
 - Treatment
 - Brushing your dog's teeth

Nothing ruins a lovely cuddle with your dog more than a big face-full of stinky breath. In one study, almost 50% of dog owners reported that their dog had Halitosis (the proper name for bad breath)1. This small (albeit smelly) problem can be a sign that something isn’t right, however, some dogs are just prone to bad breath. This article aims to provide you with some practical strategies that can help you tackle that pong.

What are the causes of bad breath in dogs?

Before we consider remedies, it's important to understand what causes bad breath in dogs. Of course, one of the most common reasons is tooth and gum disease. Just like humans, dogs develop plaque and tartar if their teeth are not cleaned regularly. This build-up eventually leads to a very smelly mouth that is often uncomfortable. Other factors that can cause bad breath in your dog:

  • Fishy diets – Some diets can cause more smelly breath than others. Try one that is not fish based as these do tend to lead to fishy breath in some dogs.
  • Items stuck in the mouth – If something gets stuck in your dog’s mouth, such as a stick or bone for instance, it will cause a smell as it starts to rot and can cause infection. You may also see your dog pawing at their mouth, salivating more than usual, or bleeding.
  • Organ dysfunction – Problems such as kidney diseaseliver disease and diabetes can all cause a funny smell on the breath. If your dog is unwell or is drinking more than normal as well as having bad breath, then they may be unwell. Take them to the vet as soon as possible.
  • Gut problems – Frequent vomiting or regurgitation (like reflux) can cause bad breath. You will often notice other signs such as vomiting or diarrhoea, weight loss or reduced appetite before you notice the bad breath.
  • Mouth tumours – Thankfully rare, a really nasty smell accompanied by blood-stained saliva and difficulty eating can suggest a more concerning problem. This requires an urgent trip to see your vet.

How can we reduce bad breath in dogs?

Regular dental check-ups are essential for keeping your dog’s breath fresh. Your dog should have regular vet check-ups, ideally every 6-12 months, which should include dental exams. Your vet will be able to detect any oral diseases early, which could save both you and your pet from a lot of discomfort in the future. If you are concerned, make an appointment with your vet. This is the only way to rule out causes of bad breath such as organ dysfunction or oral tumours.

Much like in people, it is impossible to completely prevent dental disease, and all dogs will naturally develop some tartar with age. Some dog breeds are much more likely to suffer with bad mouths, especially toy breeds, sighthounds and terriers. Our resident vet, Dr Shula Berg, recommends the following ways to reduce dental disease and keep your dog’s mouth healthy:

  • Teeth cleaning at home: Brushing your dog’s teeth might sound like an uphill battle but trust me, it's worth it! The abrasive action of a toothbrush is the most effective way to remove plaque from the teeth. Most pets can be taught to accept tooth brushing, but younger pets tend to learn faster than older animals. Invest in canine toothpaste (don’t use human toothpaste as it can be harmful) and a brush suitable for your dog’s size. I recommend making this part of your routine – just like taking them for walks or feeding them at fixed times every day. See our helpful tips on starting to brush below.
  • Chews and toys: Dental chews and toys create abrasive action on the teeth to reduce plaque and tartar build-up. Dental chews given daily can help reduce plaque, slowing the development of dental disease, and reducing bad breath2,3. Chews should be factored into daily feeding to prevent weight gain. Some dogs will enjoy very firm chews such as antler. These are safe if not swallowed, but always monitor your dog during use as they can occasionally cause teeth to fracture.
  • Rinses and gels: Yes, they exist! Various oral rinses (mouthwashes) and gels are available, most containing chlorhexidine to reduce bacteria and plaque. Many are effective, however, there are also many useless products available online; look for products with the VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) seal or the list on their website.
  • Diet: Dogs and cats fed dry biscuit diets tend to have less tartar than those fed only on wet food. This is because the action of crunching biscuits causes abrasion against the teeth, helping reduce plaque build-up. It does, however, rely on pets chewing the biscuits and not just swallowing them whole! Prescription dental care diets are available that can further reduce tartar formation; look for one that is proven to work or ask your practice for a recommendation.
  • Hydration: Ensure that your dog is drinking enough water throughout the day as it helps keep their mouth clean and fresh.

Your veterinary practice may have some of these items available to buy.

Members of The Healthy Pet Club benefit from 10% off vet fees and products as well as other amazing benefits.


How do I brush my dog’s teeth?

Having your teeth brushed is a strange experience, and many dogs will panic if it is not introduced slowly and gently. It may take a month or two to reach a point of “proper brushing” – this is normal and nothing to worry about. You can use a regular brush or finger brush, but always make sure to use pet toothpaste as it tastes better and doesn’t contain fluoride, which is toxic to pets.

  • Initially, simply introduce your pet to the toothpaste, offering it on your finger to be licked.
  • Once your pet accepts it, try running your finger over the outside of their teeth, still with plenty of toothpaste and praise.
  • After a few days of this, they should be ok with the idea of something in their mouth. Now is a good time to introduce your brush. Initially, use plenty of toothpaste and go slow, just accepting the brush in their mouth is enough.
  • Over the next few weeks, practice regularly. Once the brush in their mouth isn’t scary, start moving it along the teeth. Eventually build up to gentle brushing in circular motions.

The younger your pet is when you start brushing, the more likely they will be to accept the idea. Ideally, aim for daily brushing for the most effective dental care, however, anything is better than nothing. If you are unsure about brushing and would like some help, your practice will be happy to arrange an appointment with one of our veterinary nurses.


Using these strategies will undoubtedly help in improving your dog's oral hygiene, reducing the risk of dental disease. Remember, however, persistent bad breath could be a sign of more serious health issues such as gum disease or even diabetes. If there is no improvement despite regular cleaning, or if you notice other signs like excessive drooling or loss of appetite along with bad breath, consult with your vet right away.


  1. Enlund, K.B., Brunius, C., Hanson, J., Hagman, R., Höglund, O.V., Gustås, P., and Pettersson, A. (2020) Dog Owners' Perspectives on Canine Dental Health—A Questionnaire Study in Sweden. Sec. Veterinary Dentistry and Oromaxillofacial Surgery, Front. Vet. Sci., Volume 7.
  2. Carroll, M.Q., Oba, P.M., Sieja, K.M., Alexander, C., Lye, L., C de Godoy, M.R., He, F., Somrak, A.J., Keating, S.C.J., Sage, A.M., and Swanson, K.S. (2020) Effects of novel dental chews on oral health outcomes and halitosis in adult dogs, Journal of Animal Science, Volume 98, Issue 9,
  3. Jeusette, I. C., Román, A. M., Torre, C., Crusafont, J., Sánchez, N., Sánchez, M. C., Pérez-Salcedo, L., & Herrera, D. (2016). 24-hour evaluation of dental plaque bacteria and halitosis after consumption of a single placebo or dental treat by dogs. American Journal of Veterinary Research77(6), 613-619. Retrieved Dec 5, 2023, from


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